Is Accounting 10% Inspiration, and 90% Perspiration?

This is the continuation of an idea discussed in the article “The Cabrini Green Blockchain” and the sketch of how Anthony figured out the wellspring of his creativity.

What Age Are “The Kids”?

In an interview with Ebro in the morning, when asked about a response to the following comment from 50 Cent:

“Kids don’t listen to the Jay Z album”

Hip Hop producer NO ID said that he respects 50 Cent’s opinion, however when you create art, it has different purposes.

What NO ID was hinting at is the way that artists get to express themselves.. His study focused on Quincy Jones, but from my understanding this is another subtle way of understanding a comment Josh Waitzkin said on episode 2 of the Tim Ferriss podcast:

“One of the beautiful things about chess is that you can approach it in so many different ways, and to be worldclass what you need to do essentially is express the core of your being through the art.”

Perhaps explaining it this way is even the wrong way to continue the conversation, the precursor to Ebro bringing up 50 Cent’s comment, was a question from Laura Styles about a specific record.

So NO ID’s comment about the different purposes of art really connect to both Ebro and Laura’s points simultaneously. So there’s a subtle point introduced when NO ID makes the comment:

“What age are the kids [that people are talking about when they say kids don’t like some specific thing]”

He expands saying:

“I wanna help us examine that. Hip hop is one of the only things where we say, the youth is the truth. The only thing that matters. In no other form of life do adults go ‘I gotta go see what my kids said’; if i make a decision on this purchase, or [consider] what I’m going to wear today [do we ask] what do the kids say…It’s kind of pimpish to think, lets figure out what these kids think, and make some money off of it…So whatever they saying, lets just feed em that, and we’ll get some numbers…””

Pimpish is a strong word, but sometimes the extremes help drive the point home. When NO ID made this comment, he was redefining adults, and kids; in terms of mindset instead of age. If a demographic is made up of 13 year olds, and 28 year olds are they all kids?

If we call a group by the name Certified Public Accountant’s — but the group is made up of CPA’s, and non CPA’s; can the non CPA’s call themselves CPA’s? No. We know people who do not have their CPA license cannot hold themselves as something that they are not. This is what NO ID means when he talks about the age of kids.

Moreover, in the context of the pipeline in Accounting how should we think about who are potential candidates for the profession?

This is important as the Accounting industry seeks to address issues illustrated by the Illinois society of CPA’s.

“We’ve seen some disturbing things in the pipeline…What’s causing [the drop]?…I think it’s relevance to young people when they think about the profession and becoming CPAs” — Illinois CPA Society’s President and CEO Todd Shapiro

The Beat Treadmill

In trying to understand the difference between himself and young producers, NO ID said he read a quote from Quincy Jones that said its 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration and came to the conclusion that they were just outworking him. So he said “let me get on my beat treadmill.”

“I’m gonna make 100 beats, and then it went to 200, and then in four months it was 500”

But even this is oversimplifying the importance of this concept. I don’t think the 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration comment is complete. It feels like its missing something. Because like the Masters of Scale podcast clearly talks about:

“It’s not enough to have grit, you need to have wit”

So what is the wit? The wit is “the beat treadmill” but it isn’t a focus on developing the beat and making 500 perfect ones. NO ID was making sketches. It’s not perspiration for the sake of delivering a finished product but to meet the trajectory of an artist.

It’s about understanding the outlines of their idea, and then honing one’s craft, to connect with an artist and help them to express themselves. Even if that work of art doesn’t get created for multiple years.

The Accounting Treadmill

For Accounting I would add a subtle modification, its the willingness of a CPA to have foresight into the needs of other CPA candidates, Accountants, and clients etc. to create long term solutions to the problems in the industry even if that means changing their career paths to do so. And like Brian Chesky said, “not creating single output metrics.”

My belief is it creates higher value for all parties in the long run.

I’d reword the way that Tien Tzuo described Thomas Lah’s insights in the context of Microsoft:

In shifting his company away from static hardware and on-premise sales toward a subscription-based cloud model, Satya Nadella swallowed the fish.- Tien Tzuo

And say that Accountant’s and Accounting firms have to swallow the fish as well shifting the business model for the careers and the company. Or put another way, we have to learn how to track down a flyball.

Because everyone studying the CPA pipeline knows: less people are taking the CPA; and turnover is high.

Regulation is the New Black

But shifting individual career and company business models is subtle. It lies in the distinction between Mediocristan and Extremistan that Nassim Taleb spoke about.


When Ford Motor Company was at a turning point , and Henry Ford had a vision to:

“build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one — and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”(My Life and Work by Henry Ford Page 73)

Ford did the following:

Therefore in 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning, that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model was going to “Model T,” and that the chassis would be exactly the same for all cars, and I remarked: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it’s black”

What he was doing was standardizing the process.One chassis, meant one outline, and a single output. The other models were discontinued.

I think compliance reporting is the new black in accounting. I don’t say that from a perspective that it’s bad, but actually that its pretty exciting.

Extremistan and The Treadmill

Today, this model of thinking has changed. We’re in a new domain. If Henry Ford lived in Mediocristan, then Adobe CFO Mark Garrett, and every Accountant lives in Extremistan.

I’ll talk about my perspective on how this is related to debates on investing in and empowering communities later. But for now, let’s take a look at what the CFO of Adobe said when he spoke with founder of Zuora Tien Tzuo about why Adobe decided to “swallow the fish”:

Back then the company was profitable, but we were only growing in the single digits. We just weren’t that exciting as a business. — Interview here

Let’s be straight up, not many people see Accounting as an exciting business. Growth numbers of candidates in the pipeline are shrinking.

Let’s start to think about addressing why that is because largely, Accounting and Graphic Design are intangible qualities just like Taleb describes in the Black Swan.

“What I would encourage people to do having been an offender myself is to
just really look for the bias in the person who’s presenting you with options and advice like understand where their biases are and understand that like Google is operating a machine and the Machine has multiple purposes. One purpose is to get the smartest people to work on the hardest tasks but the other purpose is to get people who are smart and talented so that they’re not working for Google’s competitors; and then the last purpose is to get people who are smart and talented so they’re not creating companies that will compete with Google. Everyone understands the first one and they don’t think about two and three.” — Michael Seibel

The First Way to Address It — Understand the Treadmill

We’re supposed to be speeding up, to support all of our stakeholders. Like Brian Chesky said, the charter of a corporation cannot merely serve its shareholders.

From the perspective of Hip Hop, this is having a stack of beats and giving it to an artist. That’s not what we should be doing. In the context of Accounting, we should be helping CPA’s in the pipeline express the core of their being.

NO ID had to give up creating finished beats to score Jay-Z’s life.

This process is what allowed Common and Jay Z, to create two of their biggest works of art:

  • I used to love H.E.R.
  • 4:44

NO ID sensed the potential for a “classic” through discussions with the two legendary artists, and then honed his own expression to meet them there. He continues in the interview saying:

“[Jay-Z] came to me [two] years ago and said I got an idea for an album. I go see him, he tells me the concept. I heard the concept and was like I know where he’s going. He may not have said it fully, and at that time I was studying Quincy Jones to get better, but I didn’t have a stack of beats. . . So for a couple years I kept telling him I didn’t have nothing. Then he hit me and asked I need you to help me on this vic mensa project. and by then I had caught a groove. . . I sat with him and I ran off fifty [beats]”

That is to say it took two years for NO ID’s study of his industry; and Jay-Z’s exploration of living life to coalesce into the 4:44 project.

But the important thing to realize, is the way that NO ID makes beats. He said the following:

“The way I make music now, I just kind of create a sketch on the spot. . . the speed of it is actually an important way because people get bogged down with ideas, it’s just a slow process. And every idea could be a little off so to speak. The drums could have been wrong but if it take you two days to come back [people are on to the next thing]”

As he says it, “there’s too much thumbing to do in life to think about coming back to a beat”; too much scrolling.

This means that the 50 beats that NO ID played for Jay-Z weren’t finished beats, but ideas.

Like Gary Vee said “the world is in an issue of supply and demand” and people are getting pulled in too many directions.

He continues:

“I incorporate that and I try to overload people, and catch them in a place”

What this means is that it isn’t NO ID who is on the treadmill, but the listener of his sketches. Remember, we live in Extremistan, the world is more hyper connected, so he wants to flash images in their mind about the direction of his technique, of what he’s drawing. If the artist is in the right state of mind to begin working on a project — like the one Jay-Z and NO ID discussed two years prior, the producer and the artist’s sketches that they’ve accumulated over time will inevitably meet.

But it wasn’t until NO ID made the “Kill Jay-Z” beat that they started to get to work.

We can think of it as being like Henry Ford’s conveyor belt, where it isn’t the workers that are moving, but the individual pieces of the car. These unfinished sketches, flash in the mind of an artist, and then in this case NO ID and Jay-Z have to come back together and end up producing an album like 4:44.

It’s important to note though, this doesn’t mean that you just go off and start making wack beats, or slapping together something. This is a result of intense study and reflection on life and one’s craft.

Accountant’s Need to Score Lives

When NO ID talks about scoring the life of an artist, he talks about removing the roadblocks to the full expression of what the artist is trying to do. In the context of Accounting this means helping the client meet its full potential.

In the case of 4:44, Jay-Z got co-production credits, but as NO ID says “that’s cheapening what that was” because when Jay-Z gave him a playlist of the music he played in his house, they were exchanging visions.

Think of it in this way, like Brian Chesky said about workplace flexibility and the impact Covid had on the travel industry:

“Before the pandemic, we used to live in one place — our house, work in another place — our office, go to a third place — Travel. Now those three places are in the same place and they can be anywhere we want to be. So long as employers allow people to live a hybrid life, what it means is millions of people are more flexible about where they can go, when they can go…half of our nights booked are now a week or longer. This is way outside what was typically considered a typical travel trip.”

He says the percentage of their business is now broken up in the following way

IF this is the NEW makeup of the travel industry, can you even quantify the %’s of the allocation of production of music? How would you quantify that?

What about the changes that have taken up in the Accounting industry? How would you quantify that?

So if we addressed that perspiration, when considering stakeholders isn’t just churning out products; and that companies like Adobe and Ford had to swallow the fish, AND we think about the interconnectedness of our work life, shouldn’t we start to rethink Accounting?

If Travel is now made up of “where you live” what is the breakdown of the word “perspiration” in the context of Accounting; and what are the labels we should use to define those categories?

These are the important questions.

If you enjoyed this story, sign up here to get notifications about other blog posts, and videos





Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store